NFL Inequalities: Andrew Luck's $22 million free lunch

When I saw the Colts star Quarterback Andrew Luck hang up his cleats, it was the NFL’s biggest retirement shock since Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson retired. The bigger shock, however, was the fact that he is allowed to keep his entire year's salary and bonus even though he quit. In a league made up of 70 percent African Americans, who are all playing under non-binding and non-guaranteed contracts, you can rest assured that none of these players will be given the favor that is granted to golden boys like Andrew Luck.

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Even legends like Johnson and Sanders, both Hall of Fame-caliber players, were forced to immediately pay their bonus money back when they decided to retire early. The NFL inequalities are on full display for Luck who will not even be mentioned in the same breath as all-time great quarterbacks. Though I’ve never been a Luck fan, he won me over last season when he bounced back from a series of injuries to win the NFL Comeback Player of the Year. But the longer I sat and thought about his recent retirement, I quickly realized that this is just another example of the bias nature of the NFL.

NFL Income Inequality

The Indianapolis Colts will pay Luck over $22 million dollars this year even though he won’t take a snap. This is probably more money than 70 percent of the players on his team will make this year combined. There needs to be a mandate for guaranteed minimum salaries in the most profitable sports league in America, just like any other contracted profession in our country. Imagine another unionized profession which allowed the employer to fire their workers when they get injured. Even corporate America would be sued, most likely, if they tried to pull this off.

Even firing players who are performing well so they can pay someone else a little less to do the job. This is the reality for 70 to 80 percent of Luck's teammates. These players have day to day contracts and can get a big chunk of their salaries revoked if they are injured on the job.

As a matter of fact, I was personally given what’s called a “split contract” following 3 of my NFL injuries. I recall going into my 28th birthday battling the realities of 6 surgeries in my last 3 NFL seasons. They included 2 separate ruptured pectoral majors, compartment syndrome causing lower leg surgery, knee scopes leaving my bone on and several other non-surgical injuries like a bilateral clavicular sprain. With all of these injuries, my total take-home compensation from my 5 seasons in the NFL was close to $1 million, before taxes.

Like Tom Brady and many others who’ve played in the NFL have said, 100 percent of players get injured. The tragedy is that only the top 20 percent get real binding contracts and are paid enough to compensate them for the brain trauma, arthritis and the shortened life expectancy that is caused by being an NFL player.

Only Unionized Profession With No Guaranteed Salary

I feel terrible for  Luck's injury battles, but let’s not forget, at 29 he’s already made over $100 million dollars playing football.

As a 3-time team captain and one of the NFL’s premier special teams players, a guaranteed minimum salary would have been the norm at any other unionized and contracted professional job in America. Instead, I was in the pool with the vast majority of NFL players whose union led by DeMaurice Smith continues to bow down to the NFL owners and the few golden boys like Luck who make the vast majority the money. Keep in mind that Mr. Smith was not voted in by the 2,100 current NFL players, as new NFLPA rules now allow him to be elected by a 14 person committee, which is conveniently compromised of several NFL golden boys similar to Luck. These Golden Boys make 80% of the total player's salaries, which include large bonuses which make the need for guaranteed salaries insignificant to them. Golden Boys stick together.

Why the Fans are Booing

My heart went out to Andrew Luck as he was showered with boos from Colts fans as he walked off the field for the last time. After a very successful career, no athlete wants to experience this. But we have to understand their frustration. The NFL’s fan base is diverse and the vast majority of the fans are working-class Americans. So when your franchise QB decides to retire after a young career which has paid him $100 million and has prepaid him $22 million for this season, it’s easy to understand why fans are questioning things. If Luck had decided to retire in the offseason, the Colts fans would have probably thrown him a parade. Now we are two weeks before the kickoff of the regular season and the Colts are now scrambling to prepare for a future without their franchise QB. NFL fans know that replacing a QB is much more difficult than any other position on the field.

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As a Monday morning Quarterback fans would have hoped to see Luck go on Injured Reserve (IR) or the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP), which would have allowed him to consider coming back midseason if he felt healthy enough. At the end of the day, he has been paid and could have still chosen to retire at the end of the offseason. Or at least take the $22 million handout and help double the salaries of 40 of his 53 teammates who are playing on day-to-day contracts. It’s time for DeMaurice Smith or one of the prominent NFL Golden Boys to take a stand for the 80 percent whose careers are shackled by the NFL’s systematic inequalities.

Otherwise, players should make mends with President Trump, as he’s probably the only one who can help successfully negotiate with the 32 NFL owners.

Jack Brewer possesses a unique combination of expertise in the fields of global economic development, sports and finance through his roles as a successful entrepreneur, executive producer, news contributor and humanitarian. Currently, Jack serves as the CEO and Portfolio Manager of The Brewer Group, Inc. as well as the Founder and Executive Director of The Jack Brewer Foundation (JBF Worldwide), active Shriner and Ambassador and National Spokesperson for the National Association of Police Athletic/Activities Leagues, Inc.

Other key roles include regular contributor to CNBC, Fox Business and The American City Business Journals, Ambassador for Peace and Sport for the International Federation for Peace and Sustainable Development at the United Nations, Senior Advisor to former H.E. President Joyce Banda of the Republic of Malawi and three-time National Football League (NFL) Team Captain for the Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants.